Information is often said to be the lifeblood of organisations. Certainly, timely access to appropriate reports and Management Information (often traditionally referred to as “MI”) helps managers and stakeholders at all levels in the organisation to understand trends and make decisions. However, how much MI is too much?
I remember, early in my career, working for a Financial Services organisation that relied on regular reporting from its mainframe system. Every night, the mainframe would spew out pages and pages of reports and lists of data on continuous tractor-feed paper – each with a header page showing who the report was for. The mail-room would collate and sort these reports, and within a few hours the report would be directed to the relevant person. At least that was the theory…
The reality was quite different. Often bespoke reports had been created that were no longer required. Managers had changed jobs, moved or left, yet still their reports were being generated.
In some cases the mail-room would re-direct these reports to other people; in other cases, I suspect they ended up in the recycling. I heard one story of an entire store room in an organisation being used to hoard months’ worth of reports that were being sent to an absentee manager as “nobody knew whether or not they were important”.
Back in those days, it was very visible when a report wasn’t being used any more. It sat unopened on someone’s desk, or it simply couldn’t be delivered. But let me ask you this: Of all the MI and reporting that happens in your organisation, how much is read? And how much is actually used in decision making? And how much leads to corrective action being taken?
In some organisations, the answer to these questions is “not that much”. This is true of organisations of all sizes, but in my experience it is particularly relevant for mid-size and larger size organisations that have a range of stakeholders with varying informational needs.
In these organisations, often reports contain huge amounts of information that is only occasionally required. As anyone who has worked on a major system upgrade or migration project would attest, there’s often redundant functionality (including a significant number of reports) that simply aren’t used at all anymore. However, this is understandable. Often managers have “one shot” to define the report that they want – knowing that there will be little time and budget to change things in the future. So they throw everything at it – every piece of data that they imagine they might need at some point in the next 10 years.
There are three issues at play here:
- Appropriateness & flexibility of data and information
- Right recipients
A better solution would be to have a solution that allows the right people to access the right data at the right time – and provides the precise data and information they need. This is easy to say, but more difficult to achieve. The key is to understanding the precise needs of the business stakeholders, analysing their real requirements (i.e. what information and data they need and when they need it) and then building, buying or customising an analytic capability to suit. Plus it is much better, where possible, to allow flexibility so that stakeholders can access a range of data. With today’s system this doesn’t have to be a report – perhaps an interactive dashboard might do the job. The discipline of business analysis and requirements engineering is key here.
By understanding requirements without immediately defaulting to assuming that “more reports” are the solution, we’re able to ensure our stakeholders get what they really need – insight and actionable data that enhances decision making capability.
This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions